5 Common Items From Colonial America You’ve Never Heard Of

  • Student with hornbook
Student with hornbook
Credit: Science & Society Picture Library via Getty Images

Life in colonial America was undeniably challenging, and early settlers had to be resilient and resourceful in order to survive. Many of the items that colonists used in day-to-day life were either brought from Europe or based on tools they had used in their old lives. While some remnants of the colonial era, such as spinning wheels and quill pens, remain a part of our collective memory, many lesser-known items have faded into obscurity or been replaced by modern innovations. Here are five once-common objects you may not have heard of before, each of which served an important role in sustaining family life and building communities in colonial America.

Credit: Interim Archives/ Archive Photos via Getty Images


A simple, durable tablet used as a primer for children’s studies, the hornbook originated in England around 1450 and was a staple of early childhood education in colonial America. Hornbooks were crafted by affixing a single page of parchment or paper onto a paddle-shaped wooden board and covering it with a translucent protective sheet made from an animal’s horn. This was created by soaking the horn in cold water to separate the parts, then heating and pressing the needed part into a thin, clear layer. A fundamental lesson was printed on the paper, such as the alphabet in lowercase and capital letters, simple vowel-consonant combinations, Roman numerals, and religious texts. Hornbooks remained popular well into the era of mass-printed books because they were both sturdy and functional.

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